Advice

Fantasy Owners Are Buying the Wrong Breakout Tight End

In fantasy football, one of the toughest things to identify is breakout players, but identifying these breakouts is a big part of winning fantasy leagues. Eric Ebron looks like a premier breakout candidate this season because of his age, previous production, and average draft position.

Age

Age is one of the most important variables when discussing football players. It gives us a good idea of when players break out, peak, and decline.

To find out when tight ends peak, I looked at the ages of every TE since 2000 who had at least 60 receptions for 700 yards and six touchdowns. Using the RotoViz Screener, the sample size amounted to 60. Each season is listed in the table below:

PLAYERSEASAGEreRECSreTRGSreYDSreTDS
Tony Gonzalez201337831218598
Tony Gonzalez201236931249308
Ben Watson201535741108256
Shannon Sharpe20033562947708
Tony Gonzalez201135801168757
Antonio Gates201434699882112
Tony Gonzalez200933831358676
Delanie Walker201632651028007
Tony Gonzalez20083296155105810
Antonio Gates20113164887787
Delanie Walker2015319413310886
Jason Witten201331731118518
Dallas Clark200930100133110610
Gary Barnidge2015307912510439
Greg Olsen2015307712411047
Heath Miller201230711018168
Jimmy Graham20163065959236
Owen Daniels201230621047166
Antonio Gates2009297911411578
Dallas Clark200829771078486
Greg Olsen2014298412310096
Antonio Gates20082860927048
Greg Olsen201328731118166
Jimmy Graham2014288512488910
Jason Witten2010289412810029
Tony Gonzalez20042810214812587
Antonio Gates200727751179849
Heath Miller20092776987896
Jimmy Graham20132786142121516
Kyle Rudolph201627831328407
Martellus Bennett201427901289166
Tony Gonzalez2003277110691610
Vernon Davis20112767957926
Antonio Gates200626711209249
Jimmy Graham201226851359829
Rob Gronkowski20152672120117611
Tony Gonzalez20022663997737
Todd Heap200626731167656
Antonio Gates20052589140110110
Chris Cooley200725661107868
Jordan Cameron201325801189177
Jimmy Graham20112599149131011
Jordan Reed2015258711495211
Jeremy Shockey200525651218917
Julius Thomas201325659078812
Jason Witten2007259614111457
Rob Gronkowski20142582131112412
Tony Gonzalez200125731189176
Todd Heap200525751148547
Vernon Davis2009257812996513
Antonio Gates2004248111496413
Brent Celek200924761129718
Charles Clay201324691027596
Tony Gonzalez2000249315012039
Chris Cooley200523711037747
Jason Witten20052366897576
Aaron Hernandez201122791139107
Jason Witten200422871229806
Rob Gronkowski20112290124132717
Todd Heap200222681228366

This is a distribution graph of the ages:

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 11.21.04 AM

While the average age is 27.6 yards old, the peak year appears to be 25. An astonishing 20 percent of the seasons happened at age 25. Ebron turns 25 next April. We might be a year early but there are reasons for optimism in 2017. Also noteworthy, RotoDoc found that Ebron was a borderline top tier TE or an upper-level mid-tier TE, both of which have peak seasons around age 26.

Previous Production

Ebron has the draft pedigree – 10th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft1 – and prior production that indicates future success. Ebron is one of 12 tight ends since 2000 to average at least 50 receiving yards per game before turning 24 years old.

PLAYERSEASAGEGTgtRecYdsTDY/G
Eric Ebron201623138561711154.7
Jermichael Finley20102352621301160.2
Jordan Reed20132395945499355.4
Jeremy Shockey20032397048535259.4
Kellen Winslow2006231612089875354.7
Rob Gronkowski2012231179557901171.8
Aaron Hernandez2011221411379910765
Jermichael Finley200922137255676552
Jeremy Shockey2002221512874894259.6
Jason Witten2004221612287980661.3
Rob Gronkowski201122161249013271782.9
Todd Heap2002221612268836652.3

It’s a promising list and a sign that he should keep improving.

Average Draft Position

For a player who has many indicators pointing in a favorable direction, you would expect to be forced to pay a hefty price. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Ebron is being selected, on average, as TE16 in standard leagues and TE14 in PPR. That puts him behind the likes of Hunter Henry and O.J. Howard.

By season’s end it’s likely that he outscores those players – and he’s coming at cheaper price.

In early MFL10s, where the crowd is a little more astute, Ebron is currently being drafted as TE12.

2017 Projection

I took a close look at Ebron and the Lions offense using the Projection Machine. After seeing 11.2 percent of the Lions’ targets in his second season, Ebron received 14.7 percent last season. Since Ebron should still be ascending, it’s fair to expect another jump.

For those familiar with the Projection Machine, I put Ebron’s catch rate and yards per target at his 2016 of 71.8 percent and 8.37, respectively.2 In 2016 Ebron’s TD rate was so disappointing that only one other player in 2016 (Jermaine Kearse) saw at least 85 targets and recorded only one TD. Since Ebron recorded a TD rate of 7.1 percent in 2015 – and the average TD rate for a primary TE is 5.0 percent – I gave him a bump to the still modest 4.2 percent.

However, there are reasons for optimism about Ebron potentially improving his touchdown rate even further. 1) His TE similarity scores expect a bump in N+1 season. 2) The Lions lack proven red zone weapons.

Three Scenarios

Target%TargetsRecsRecYdsRecTDsFPsRank16
0.15593.3166.96780.513.92168.53TE10
0.16599.3371.28830.874.17179.40TE7
0.175105.3575.6881.224.42190.27TE5

The middle projection would have made Ebron the TE7 in 2016, scoring 11.21 fantasy points per game. When comparing this per game projection to the Similarity Score app, our per game projection is low. The Similarity Score App gives Ebron the following per game points in PPR:

Low: 10.1

Median: 11.6

High: 12.6

Conclusion

Eric Ebron’s prior production at a young age gives us reason to believe that he can be a really good player. As he continues to improve, one has to wonder if this is the year that he’ll become a valuable weapon in fantasy football. The current state of the Lions offense and his cheap price tag combine to make Ebron a potential league-winning pick.

It doesn’t hurt that Jim Caldwell said in May, “Ebron just keeps getting better.”

 

When he’s not searching for ways to defeat his opponents, Mike Braude spends his time finding ways to remove the randomness of fantasy football and reward the most skilled fantasy owners. He has remedied this issue by creating Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues.

  1. two picks before Odell Beckham  (back)
  2. The catch rate is at the 75th percentile and could come down, but Stafford has been a high completion passer in Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme.  (back)
By Mike Braude | @BraudeM | Archive

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